Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit and the Prosecution Economic Crimes Division on Wednesday filed an indictment with the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court against drone-maker Aeronautics and three of its senior officials for violating export laws regarding a purchaser.
A gag order was placed on all details relating to the case, presumably because the buyer is a country with whom Israel has sensitive relations or that exposure of details could harm Israeli drone sales to other foreign buyers.
Both in 2016 and 2019, there were reports of Israeli weapons being used in Armenia, with a 2019 report by Channel 12’s Nir Dvori saying that Armenia had shot down an attack drone from Azerbaijan only to later learn that it was designed by Aeronautics.
In February 2019, The Jerusalem Post’s Anna Ahronheim reported that Aeronautics had won a $13 million contract relating to its Orbiter drones, only two weeks after its export license was reinstated – likely following developments in the current case.
Aeronautics opened a factory in Azerbaijan in 2011 and in 2017 the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute ranked Azerbaijan as the third-largest purchaser of Israeli arms at $137 million.
The case takes on an even higher level of importance as one of the two current main 50% co-owners of Aeronautics is Rafael, one of the three largest Israeli defense companies and with a quasi-governmental status.
The case dates back to 2017, but was stalled due to the sensitivity of the issue for the defense establishment and a desire to reach a plea deal that would avoid an awkward public trial potentially requiring foreign defense sector witnesses.
Reports said that a deal between the parties includes an unspecified fine and community service, but no jail time and that the file remained open for an extended period while the sides haggled over the deal’s terms.
Aeronautics is based in Yavneh, and its CEO Moshe Elazar (who is not a suspect) was previously a top official at Rafael.
Rafael, which paid half of the NIS 850 million purchase price two years ago, said in response: "The indictment refers to events involving officers of the company that took place a long time before it was acquired by Rafael, and none of the current officers of the company has any part in the affair."